The incomplete guide to study abroad applications

Graphic by Natalie Bauer

Study abroad application deadlines for next fall are coming up (very soon for some of you, a bit more in the future for others). If you’re thinking about studying abroad next fall — or next spring, for that matter — and you don’t know when the deadline is, check now. That’s my first piece of advice.

Applying can be stressful, but this list of tips, tricks, and advice, pulled from my own experience applying for my program (and my friends’ experiences to a more limited extent), will hopefully help ease the way.

  1. Start early

I started looking at study abroad programs more than a year before I was scheduled to leave, during the summer before my sophomore year. This was probably too early, but I was glad to have had a tentative idea of where I wanted to apply before the stress of school began anew.

Looking at my application well ahead of time also helped me begin to think about and plan what I wanted to write for my essays. For Pomona, I had two, totaling around 1,000 words.

Having a rough idea of my plans also allowed me to sign up for an appointment with the Pomona study abroad office just after they opened up, before the office was completely booked.

Starting early also gave me a chance to ask the professors who I wanted to write my recommendations early, giving them plenty of time to complete them without rushing. If you’re applying for study abroad next year, start thinking now about which professors you think might write the best recommendations for you, and ask them sooner rather than later.

If you are planning on applying to a program that your school has not pre-approved, you will face an earlier petition deadline, so starting in advance will be particularly helpful. That said, if you have not yet started your application for next fall, it may not be too late, depending on your school’s deadline. Get started as soon as you can.

  1. Gather information

Talk to as many people as you can about the program. Talk to your study abroad office, talk to representatives from the program, do research about the program and your host city, and most importantly, talk to people who have previously been on the program, especially those who have been recently.

Talking to a Pomona student who had previously attended the program was a critical factor in my choice of where to go. Hearing about her best experiences and memories from the program — as well as the low points and her dislikes — helped me make my decision.

Students will also be your best resource for knowing whether there are hidden problems with prospective programs, which may steer you away from those and push you to find other options.

  1. Think carefully about what you want from your program

When choosing your program, think about what your goals and interests are. Are you looking to practice a language? Explore a foreign culture? Experience a different learning environment? There are a multitude of programs available, and being aware of your specific goals can help you decide on one.

I had studied abroad during summer programs in Spanish-speaking countries and have studied Spanish since second grade, but was looking for a different experience for my semester abroad. For this reason — and others — I settled on an English language program focusing intently on my major, international relations, rather than one in Spanish with a broader range of courses available.

  1. Pay attention to the prerequisites

Some programs, particularly language programs, will have some prerequisites. Another reason I chose not to sign up for some of the pre-approved Spanish language programs is that I did not plan to take a Spanish course last spring, which the programs required.

Although course selection has already occurred, if you are planning on studying abroad next fall and have not done so yet, check to see whether there are any course perquisites you need to fulfill. It may not be too late to PERM into a class that fulfills requirements.

  1. Don’t stress about the number of applications you are allowed to submit

As someone who applied to about 15 colleges and around 100 separate internship positions last summer, I was stressed when I found out that Pomona would only allow me to apply to one study abroad program per semester. Although some of the 5Cs allow students to apply to more than one program, many keep the number very low.

If you are like me, you might be nervous about this, but you really shouldn’t be. Especially for school approved programs, barring any significant issues with your GPA or disciplinary record, you will likely be admitted to your program of choice with little issue. I have not spoken to anyone at the 5Cs who was rejected from a program they applied to. If your study abroad office says you don’t need a backup, then you don’t.

Pomona’s application was also much more stringent than my program’s. Pomona’s application involved several essays and in-depth questions. My program required me to do little more than fill in my GPA, upload my transcript, and provide other personal details.

  1. Expect lots of paperwork

However much paperwork you’re expecting, expect more. Study abroad requires massive amounts of paperwork: health forms, academic planning forms, course approval forms, housing forms, visa forms in some cases, and more. And after you’re accepted, there’s more still.

The best way to handle the paperwork is to make sure you’re staying aware of the due dates for each form, what you need to do to, and who you need to contact to complete them.

  1. If you want to study abroad both semesters, plan well ahead

Although I am only studying abroad for one semester, some friends will be abroad this spring as well. I have heard from them that this requires meetings with the study abroad office, more advanced planning to complete spring applications while abroad, and forms that need to be completed before you leave.

  1. Relax, and get excited!

Study abroad involves a lot of preparation, but it all pays off in the end. You will get into your program and get to go abroad, so get excited!

Marc Rod is an international relations major at Pomona College, studying the European Union in Freiburg, Germany. Fittingly, he enjoys travel and journalism.

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